News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Eats: Vintage at the Inn at Willow Grove
BY KURT RABIN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Elizabeth: Can you believe it’s been a year since we started reviewing restaurants?
Kurt: And what better way to celebrate that one-year anniversary than having gone to an establishment many consider the finest our area has to offer.
She: That would be Orange County’s Vintage Restaurant, at the recently renovated Inn at Willow Grove, which rests on 37 acres and dates back to 1778.
He: I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better meal over the past 12 months, when you take into account the inn’s dramatic setting, ambience, food and presentation.
She: Atmosphere is a big factor, and Willow Grove has it in spades: water fixtures, fireplaces and glass everywhere, reflecting all of the light. The décor was proof that Vintage is a class act and that we were in for a true “dining experience.”
However, the food didn’t meet the promise of the surroundings. It was delicious, well-prepared and presented, but for the most part I felt like I was eating air. The taste of the breading on my calamari tapa canceled out the briny taste of the squid. And my chicken-fried ahi tuna was similarly subtle in a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of way. Compared to meals at other places we’ve visited this year, the food was almost “quiet.”
He: I’ve got to confess to being ravenous after our long wait for entrées. We’d been seated an hour and all I’d had to eat was a single-bite amuse-bouche of horseradish-crusted salmon and a tempura-shrimp tapa, consisting of a single shrimp, albeit exquisitely presented with winter-melon salsa.
However, my venison with its roasted tomatoes and port-wine reduction exceeded expectations. And the sides of cocoa spaetzle and braised chard complemented the protein perfectly, resulting in the loveliest, best-tasting plate of food I’ve been served all year long.
She: Another place that takes a similar approach to Vintage’s is Elmwood at Sparks, also in Orange, where they’re trying to do American or Southern food with a twist. But there was still a heartiness to the meal there. I think the phrase “urban meets plantation style” in Willow Grove’s brochure is key here. It’s an interesting mix that they almost have down.
He: I hate to rub it in, but the chocolate crème-caramel Bundt cake I had for dessert was marvelous.
She: The most anti-climactic part of the meal for me. I was looking forward to the “chef’s choice” crème brûlée, but the custard was spongy and the peppermint flavor was overwhelming.
He: Hmm. At the start of the meal, especially when it came to service, I felt like you were Vintage’s apologist. Once we’d finished I was the one who came to its defense.
She: It was a fun reversal. I think it was clear they were working hard out there. Everyone was pitching in and helping. The fact that the host came and waited on us at certain points was impressive to me.
He: If they dropped the ball anywhere, it was in the service department. The wait staff didn’t seem, pardon the pun, especially seasoned, or even very knowledgeable about the menu. I’m thinking of the long wait between courses, having the wrong tapas delivered on two separate occasions and having the maître d’—when asked for a recommendation—suggest a chicken dish, a fallback choice if ever there was one.
She: Service could use tightening up, but trying counts for a lot, and I was willing to be flexible. Just getting an opportunity to go to a place like Willow Grove is like winning the lottery—it gave us a chance to be exposed to something outside the realm of our usual dining experience.
He: Vintage the perfect vantage for looking back on a year of rewarding restaurant meals.
What: Vintage Restaurant at Inn at Willow Grove
Address: 14079 Plantation Way, Orange
Info: 540/317-1206; innatwillowgrove.com
Hours: 5:30–9:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Sunday (brunch only)
Prices:Appetizers: $9–$16; Dinners: $25–$38; Desserts: $9–$15; Tapas menu: $5 per plate (served Wednesdays only); Beer, wine, mixed drinks available
The Scoop: Dine in understated elegance on beautifully presented food from ambitious menu.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted.
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000